“Jarvis Seegmiller: Adding Life to Old Age,” Ensign, Apr. 1990, 67–68
It has been said that inside every old person is a young person wondering, “What happened to me?”
A member of the San Diego North Stake Thirteenth Ward has long been a pioneer in searching for the answer to that question. To friends and family, including his wife, Roberta, and their four children, he is Jay Seegmiller. To the medical profession, he is Dr. Jarvis Seegmiller, professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine at the University of California at San Diego. He is also director of the university’s Institute for Research on Aging, which he helped found in 1983, and the author of more than 370 scholarly papers on subjects relating to human biochemical genetics and rheumatology.
Brother Seegmiller’s interests have not always included geriatrics. He earned his first degree in chemistry after being inspired by Henry Eyring, whom he met as a teenager. “I will be grateful forever for Brother Eyring’s exemplary faith, in combination with his vast knowledge of science,” says Brother Seegmiller. “That was so important to a young scientist like me at the time.”
During World War II, Jay worked at the National Institutes of Health. After his release from the service, he went to the University of Chicago Medical School and interned at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
In 1972, he was elected to the highly select National Academy of Sciences on the basis of his distinguished contributions to science. He is a pioneer in the use of tissue cultures to study human hereditary diseases. He recently returned from a sabbatical at Oxford University, where he worked on identifying how defective genes lead to biochemical abnormalities that cause disease.
In his study of genes and the aging process, Brother Seegmiller has become “convinced that Latter-day Saints have the advantage when it comes to knowing factors that lead to a healthy, long life. The gospel sustains both spiritual and physical life,” he says.
He points out that since 1900, the over-65 age group has increased from 4 percent of the U.S. population to 12 percent. “At the Institute,” he says, “our goal is not to increase life span; it is to learn how humans can develop a healthful long life so that we can live out our lives in comfort.
“Old age need not be synonymous with disease and disability. I don’t believe, for example, that it is the Lord’s will that people must live with terrible debilitations like Alzheimer’s.”
With this in mind, Jay Seegmiller may study healthy, aging Latter-day Saints. “Many Church members have traced their pedigrees back four generations, with the birth and death dates of every ancestor. We can pick out families with an unusual number of members with long life spans and try to determine what genetic factors might be at work,” he says.
Although sixty-eight years old, Dr. Seegmiller says he still feels like a young man. He certainly displays a youthful energy and enthusiasm when he talks about his work and about the Church. He has served in two bishoprics and as Sunday School president.
“I find a great many opportunities to talk about the Church and our healthy life-style,” he says. “Even before people meet me, they seem to find out that I’m a Mormon. I’m proud of it.”